Understanding her and viewing her form is said to bring transformation of life in a positive manner. Despite her iconic images being available quite freely, it is wide open to cause confusion and misunderstanding by the uninitiated but probing minds. Dakini shares this inferential predicament with tantric Kali and Bhairavi when viewed superficially. All three are not bent on destruction but they are glorifications of wrathful violence particularly as manifest in the female form.
HINDU TANTRISM: Shakti, Yogini, Shakini and Dakini are interchangeably used but not without confusion. Dakinis are the guardians of the inner mysteries of the Self through whom secrets of inner transformation are revealed. Legends have it that Dakini and Shakini were the consorts of Tripurasura. Tripura is a reference to the asura Tarakasura who gets an unusual boon from Brahma. The asura gets three forts which become one in a thousand years and called Tripura, the boon has it that it can be destroyed by a single arrow. The asuras florish but Brahma could render no assistance to the Gods and devas. So they went to Siva. But the asuras had to cause a breach for warranting his interference.
This drama was staged by Vishnu creates a scene of the asuras being anti vedic practicing a new religion around the Tripura forests. The Gods re-approach Siva and inform him that the Linga is no more in worship. Siva installs a divine weapon called Pashupata into his arrow and shot down Tripura. Now, the widowed Dakini and Shakini apparently went into tapas and get a boon from Siva that they could live in the forest. The boon also provided that they pose no threat and people would have to chant their names before they could visit the Bhimashankara shrine. According to the Shiva Mahapurana, this is a Jyotirlinga shrine where Siva appeared as a Pillar of Light. Hence the forests came to be known as Dakini Forests.
From the Dakini Forests seems to emerge the Dakinis of Hindu Tantric sex ‘helpers’. They are said to be human females trained in tantric yoga or sexual participants themselves or ‘actual’ dakinis. There are writings to the extent that they are depicted as female fiend attendant upon Kali, who like her take pleasure in fierce practices. This takes a slight turn when their negative aspect is highlighted. Yogis who seek siddhi powers had to defeat the dakinis and their wrath to gain siddhi. The then situation seems to suggest that a Mahasiddha or true yogi is deemed to have overcome the female dakinis either by crushing them or the desire for them.
PANCHAMUKHI HANUMAN STOTRAS: Thus one had various mantras and stotras to cast away dakinis rather than invoke them in siddhi schooling. Suddenly dakinis were seen as terrible and alluring Ratis or Mohinis, so the yogis had to resort to Deities for protection. The chief of such protector was Hanuman on whose name various mantras are based to win over dakinis. The most mentioned of these is the Panchamukha Hanuman Kavacham and Saptamukhi Hanuman Kawacha. Vishnu’s Sudarshana Chakra is invoked to get protection from dakinis and dispel them from ‘normal’ yogic tantric sex. In other words they were made to stay away.
However, tantrism would survive in the Dasamahavidyas. Devi Kavacham was both a dakini dispeller and sung in praise of Durga. Dakini, Shakini, Kakini and Kamini were in some ways considered Shakti powers linked to different Chakras or Kundalini practices. They were considered the guardians of deeper mysteries of the Self and not rejected wholesale.
TIBETIAN BUDDHISM: It is in Tibetian Buddhism that Dakinis make their debut without confusion about their roles. Here the role of Dakinis is explained spiritually. The Tibetian reference seems to be ‘Khandoma’, generally female spirits of wrathful temperament, apparitional manifestations of bliss and emptiness who remove obstacles on the spiritual path and provide into the nature of mind and reality. Dakinis represent the hidden essence of the phenomenal world as well as the tantric practitioners' mind-stream as empty, radiant awareness. But Dakinis can also appear as humans, adopting a variety of forms from crone to virgin to sexual consort. In their absolute form, dakinis represent the unconstrained energies of enlightened mind, manifesting both internally and externally to guide practitioners to their goal. So, one has Dakini as a guide for spiritual sex or be one if the knowledge is gained by supervision.
CLASSIFICATION: They have three levels; outer, inner and secret. The outer dakini is a woman who embodies the development of the inner dakini and who has awakened, contained and transformed the full power of her sexuality. In esoteric Buddhist tantrism, there four classes.
The Prajnaparamita or ‘voidness’ is the first secret class of Dakinis according to the Mahayana school. Here ‘Pranjnaparamita’ means the ‘Perfection of Wisdom which is central to Mahayana Buddhism. This is also taken to be an indispensable element of the Bodhisattva Path. Generally bodhissattva is anyone who is motivated by great compassion and spontaneously generated bodichitta to attain Buddhahood. Voidness is a reference to ‘sunyata’ which means emptiness or openness; the absence of inherent existence. This first classification is icon rich.
The Dakini of the mandala, the second inner class, is a meditational deity who is a fully enlightened Buddha. She plays the role of a helper to those practicing tantrism to recognise their Buddhahood. Now, mandalas are shared by Hinduism and Buddhism for spiritual and ritualistic practices. It has its origins in the Rig Veda. The basic form is a square with four gates with a centre point and exhibit a radial balance. The centre point is a reference to Bindu meaning point or dot.
The feminine bindu is denoted by a small ornamental mystical dot cosmetically applied on the forehead. In Shakta Tantra this is said to be at the back of the head. Some write this to be ajna point. This point is said to produce the Bindu fluid that is the nectar of immortality and conflated with both male and female semen or ova. In metaphysical terms, the Bindu is the point at which creation begins and is the sacred symbol of the Cosmos in unmanifested state.
The third classification is the outer Dakini. This is the physical form of the Dakini attained through Completion Stage of Tantric practices. The Completion Stage is a reference to the ‘perfection stage or fulfillment mode linked to Anuttarayoga Tantra which is ‘Unexcelled Yoga Tantra’ or Highest Tantra in Tibetian Buddhism. This also corresponds to the Inner Tantras in Buddhism comprising of Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga.
Mahayoga-yana is associated with the masculine principle where one visualises oneself as the divinity with consort. This seems to be similar to Shiva-Shakti tantric practices and yoga. This visualization also involves oneself visualising as buddha, thus giving external form to enlightenment within. Thus there is nothing impure and defiled about sex or sexual tanrism. Mayayoga scriptures are divided into Sadhana and Tantric sections.
Anuyoga is the scriptural division which emphasises the completion stage. Anuyoga-yana is associated with the feminine principle and is for those whose principal obstacle is passion. Here one moves from external visualisation and meditates on the inner subtle body and its primary energy centres, chakras; prana, winds or subtle energies; nadis, inner pathways in which one’s energy travels and bindu, the consciousness point.
The Atiyoga is the natural, primordial state or natural condition or ‘Great Perfection. It is the central teaching of the Nyingma school and Buddhist sects. Atiyoga masters explain that one’s nature is like a mirror which reflects with complete openness but is not affected by the reflections; a crystal ball takes the color of material placed near it but itself being changed. The knowledge that from this mirror-like clarity called ‘Rigpa’ or the knowledge that ensues from recognizing one’s nature.
The fourth classification is the Dakini in human form, the outer-outer Dakini. She is a Tantric practitioner or Yogini herself in her own way. The Yoginis referred here, represent both a female teacher who teaches and practices tantric sex in both Hinduism and Buddhism. So it is not simply a gender tag. In the Hindu tradition they are considered to be sacred feminine force made incarnate as seen by Lakshmi, Parvati, Durga and Kali mythology as well as the ordinary but enlightened human woman. They have self-mastery of their sexual energy and deep spiritual insight. Here female power denotes balance and the Vedas makes reference to as many as twenty ‘Rishikas’ or female seers. In the Buddhist tradition, female tantric practitioners are known as ‘ngagma’ who devote significant time to retreat and spiritual practice. They are comparable in practice to the Mahasidda yoginis of the Indian Buddhism.
As explained above and in previous postings, a siddha is an individual who through the practice of sadhana, attains realization of spiritual abilities and powers. In the Buddhist tradition, Mahasiddhis are the founders of the Vajrayana tradition, which is Tantric Buddhis, Mantrayana, Secret Mantra or Esoteric Buddhism. Generally Vajrayana is said to be founded by Indian Mahasiddhas subscribing to Buddhist tantric literature.
DEPICTION: While dakinis have a Hindu origin, they are particularly embodied in the the deity Vajrayogini who offers a potent validation of her tantric quality. In her fiery red dancing form, she reflects a proud, undaunted, independent, powerful and erotic woman. The curved knife she carries symbolises her cutting through ignorance and stupidity she encounters in her male partner. The skullcup of blood she holds is the blissful nectar of the essence of her feminine power.
The khatvanga staff across her shoulder symbolises integration of the masculine. Like Kali, she is adorned with a crown of skulls around her neck. Bone ornaments adorn her body.
She stands on Shiva-Shakti demonstrating that she is a transformation of their primordial power on to a higher level. Shakti, the raw power of the feminine, is elevated to the level of ‘prajna’ or wisdom. As symbol of transformation, the deity Vajrayogini offers a vital channel for the integration of this powerful female energy.
Dakini is described as a messenger because she helped others access particular inner qualities. She takes tantric aspirants across a threshold of awareness to experience a deeper reality and opens them to the richness of the psyche. In the ancient times, especially in Mahasiddha stories of India, it is said that it was often an incarnate dakini who initiated the yogi into tantric practice and it was she who awakens the quality of inner vision and introduces the tantric deity. Whoever begins to awaken the inner dakini, man or woman, enters the realm of subtle consciousness and the experience of ‘sambhogakaya’, the creative visionary sphere of reality.
Dakinis attract by their fascination and vitality. They are powerful, sensual and profoundly intuitive feminine are seen as the alluring and tempting Rati or Mohini. Men becoming aroused by the dakini’s glamour may seek to grasp at and hold her to them. But in her moving moments, she will not be clung as to something inherently static. This shift can bring the sudden recognition that there is nothing solid to grasp; she is empty of solid substantiality, fleeting an elusive which leads to a deeper awareness of her empty nature.
She is the dance or play of emptiness, like the play of light rippling on the surface of water. Her appearance is manifest, yet illusory. When this is recognised, it causes the obsessive, passionate grasping to burst open. We are left in space, open, empty and free to dance the same blissful dance. This is the blissful cosmic yoga dance.
Yogic practices are aimed at purification of both the male and female principles of the human body. It is through sadhana that seeds of the vital force of the five senses, the male aspect represented by the forces of wisdom, the female aspect of the Buddha Nature are purified. The Vajrayana path’ just as in Hindu tantric practices that one makes full use of the very poisons and illusions that cause delusion. So, by consciously invoking a Wisdom Dakini one begins to develop a senstivity to the energy itself.
Various Dakini iconography and symbolism point towards identification with one’s own energy. It appears that the feminine principle of the wisdom dakini is a root of auspicious circumstances and enlightened activity. However there is a world of difference between written literature and meditative practice, which needless to say should be under the guidance of proper instructing masters. Visualization as Dakini, for that matter Shakti, or the mechanics of tantric practice and rituals, although available to everyone, has better benefits if taken under someone qualified to instruct.
Hara Hara Mahadeva
(draft Tantra – Gods, Goddesses, Minor Deities and Sages)
Yogi Ananda Saraswathi